If you grew up on a steady diet of Hollywood blockbusters over the past 40 years, you surely know the work of Wolfgang Petersen. He made us tense up with Das Boot, made us fly with The NeverEnding Story, made us hate coughing with Outbreak, and made Harrison Ford the president in Air Force One, to name only a few. Petersen’s films entertained and changed a generation but now, sadly, that’s over. The talented, Oscar-nominated director passed away at the age of 81.
Petersen had already been directing for decades when his tense, claustrophobic, highly influential submarine film, Das Boot, was released in 1981. The film was a hit, financially and critically, and proved he had a true talent for entertaining audiences. And though his later career focused a bit more on standard action thrillers, Petersen’s first instinct after Das Boot was to go into genre films.
He followed up the Oscar-nominated submarine film with the 1984 adaptation of The NeverEnding Story, a fantasy film that captured the imaginations of everyone who watched it. Falkor, Atreyu, Bastian, these characters became a part of popular culture almost instantly and the film has remained a fan favorite too, with it playing a prominent role in the fourth season of Stranger Things.
From there, Petersen stayed in the sci-fi realm, but went much darker. In 1985, he made Enemy Mine starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. as a human and alien who are stranded on the same planet and forced to work together to survive. Though it wasn’t a hit upon release, the intense story, excellent acting, and memorable creature effects have made it into a cult classic today.
After Enemy Mine, Petersen didn’t make a movie for another several years, but came back with a whole new aim. He first did the psychological thriller Shattered with Bob Hoskins and followed that up with the movie that really put him back on the map, In the Line of Fire with Clint Eastwood and John Malkovich. The political thriller was a massive success and put him back on the A-List. He proceeded to go on a tear of excellent Hollywood fare: 1995's Outbreak (which saw an unfortunate resurgence in 2020 for obvious reasons), 1997's smash hit Air Force One with Harrison Ford, the poignant effects drama The Perfect Storm in 2000, and then Troy and Poseidon. And while those final two didn’t resonate with audiences quite like the others, they’re both huge productions with amazing casts which are a testament to the amazing work Petersen had done.
According to Deadline, Petersen died peacefully last week in his Los Angeles residence from pancreatic cancer. He was in the arms of his wife Maria Antoinette, whom he’d been married to for 50 years.
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